The Toronto Maple Leafs just recently passed the game that marked a quarter of their season. It’s been a particularly interesting campaign so far with many interesting story lines to follow. Mike Babcock has been a coaching revelation for the team and has provided the players with structure and purpose each and every night.
Some players have stepped up and have had huge impacts so far. Matt Hunwick, the journeyman and veteran defenseman, has been solid on the blueline for the season. Byron Froese, the young rookie, has been called up and has yet to look back. Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Daniel Winnik all deserve honourable mention for their work thus far.
However, none of these players are the quarter mark Most Valuable Player for the Maple Leafs. This particular honour will actually go to a couple of skaters this time around, instead of the traditional one.
Most Valuable Player #1: James Reimer, Goaltender
It would be an understatement to say that the play of James Reimer has been good. He’s been nothing short of spectacular in recent weeks and has given the Maple Leafs a solid reason to win whenever he straps on the pads. He was the goaltender of note for the Buds most recent wins and has been praised by fans, media, and teammates alike.
Speaking of media, Don Cherry, of Hockey Night in Canada, called Reimer the best goalie in the NHL right now this past Saturday night. That’s extremely high praise and Reimer has, without a doubt, earned it. The native of Morweena, Manitoba has complied a 7-3-1 record while recording a save percentage of .936 and a goals-against average of 2.01.
With the faltering of Jonathan Bernier, Reimer has seized the opportunity, turned on the jets and refuses to look back. The Leafs may not have the best overall record right this second, but that is not because of James Reimer, who has been outstanding.
Most Valuable Player #2: Morgan Rielly, Defenseman
The Maple Leafs drafted an absolute gem when they picked Morgan Rielly fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Rielly has been one of the brightest spots on the team every year he has played and, at only the tender young age of 21, he appears set to become the team’s number one defenseman. Mike Babcock has tasked Rielly to defend against other teams top lines and players on a daily basis. It shows great trust from the head coach, especially for a player so young.
Spoke to Morgan Rielly tonight. He's relishing the opportunity this year to face and try to shut down other teams' top stars.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) November 15, 2015
Rielly uses his combination of excellent skating, quick thinking, and lethal shot to open up the offensive zone so he can take a shot or create an excellent chance for a teammate. Rielly, along with a few other Leafs, lead the team in five on five points with seven so far. The young defender is also tied for the team lead in scoring with Tyler Bozak. Both have 12 total points at the time of this article.
Rielly is on pace to surpass his career high of 29 points that he set a year ago. He’s transitioning into an incredible defenseman, and with the continued support and feedback from Mike Babcock, the sky might be the limit for the former fifth overall pick. Rielly is going to be tasked with leading the Maple Leafs resurgence when they are ready to compete again. He’s the leader of the future and fans of the Blue and White can unanimously agree just how lucky they are to have Rielly as part of their team.